Five years ago this month, I lost my 29 year old brother to a drug overdose. The moment I heard the devastating news will be etched on my soul forever. The last time I saw my brother James alive was in July of that year. That hot summer day I never would have guessed the next time I laid eyes on him he would be lying lifeless—cold in a casket. Up until that moment, the news of his death felt like nightmare I would wake up from soon. Surreal. Yet, when I walked into the funeral parlor with my parents and remaining two siblings, we saw the proof of his departure. Death indeed had come. All that remained of James was his decaying physical body.
Together we said our individual goodbyes to James. One by one we approached the casket to utter our final words. On my turn, with the feeling of his cold forehead fresh on my lips, a deep and desperate anguish rose up within me that longed to pick him up by the shoulders and shake him awake. I wanted to beat his chest and demand him to breathe again. Instead, I pulled myself away from his body and whispered my last “I love you.” Through tear-clouded vision we stood there— looking at and longing for our James —the last time as a family of 6.
Just weeks later, we gathered once again for Thanksgiving—this time as a family of five. That first Thanksgiving after his death was bitterly hard to bear. The entire week was filled with the anticipation that—any moment now—James would walk around the corner of the living room and join us on the couch. When he did, Landrum Thanksgiving could officially begin. Yet he never did come home. He never joined us. And it seemed a betrayal to make new memories without him.
As we stare down our fifth Thanksgiving without James, the loss is still present and the sting of death lingers. However there is much hope—even in my deep grief—to hold on to. The hope we can experience through trials and loss is directly attached to our view of God. If our view of God is big, the reality of our hope will be big, too. Here are six truths about God we can cling to as we walk through the holidays with grief in our hearts:
God Is Still Powerful
He didn’t gasp in surprise at the news of my brother’s death. God could have prevented his overdose or miraculously reversed the effects of the drugs. In all likelihood, God already had prevented his death time and time again. In fact, as I look back on my own life, and the lives of my children, there are many instances where we’ve been seconds away from death. We are quick to praise God for His powerful deliverance, especially when there is no other explanation but His miraculous intervention. However, when He doesn’t circumvent the effects of sinners living in a fallen world, it doesn’t make Him any less omnipotent. Not one of us is promised tomorrow. I may never completely understand the “why” and “why now” behind James’ death, but I do know that my God is still in control.
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen,” (Romans 11:33-36 NLT).
God Is Still Good
I’ve slowly come to see that James’ death was indeed a mercy. He is no longer suffering the ills of depression and evils of addiction. He never got to the point where he was stealing from family or his health had deteriorated, and for that I am thankful. God’s allowance of James’ death is a goodness.
“The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made,” (Psalm 145:9 ESV).
God Enters Into My Grief
God is not distant. He is not indifferent to my pain. When Jesus saw Mary, grieving over the loss of her brother, He wept. He was present in that moment and entered into grief with her and the others weeping. I have the Spirit of the living God within me, and when I weep, He is present in my grief.
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled . . . Jesus wept,” (John 11:33-35 ESV).
God Knows My Pain
It’s one thing to say that God sees and enters into my pain. It is quite another to know that He humbled Himself, limited His divine nature for a time, and became human so that I could be with Him forever. Jesus loved. Jesus lost. Jesus grieved. He knows the pain I am feeling.
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief . . . Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” (Isaiah 53:3-4 ESV).
God Knows My Tears
Just as He numbers every hair on my head, every star in the sky, every grain of sand on the seashore, He numbers my every tear. The sad ones. The angry ones. The sin-stained ones. The happy ones. I am never alone. Never forgotten.
“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? . . . This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust,” (Psalm 56:8-11 ESV).
God Will Wipe Every Tear from My Eye
Not only does He see every tear, He tenderly comforts and consoles through our cries for relief. He redeems every pain and ultimately will abolish the sin that causes our grief. It will all be taken away and replaced with the all-consuming, completely fulfilling, perfectly healing presence of God.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” (Revelation 21:3-5 ESV).
Though pain and tears and sorrow are inevitable on this side of eternity, we hold a great hope in our heavenly Father as we head into the holidays.